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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cashing In Some Karma Points

I was sitting in bed reading on Thanksgiving evening, as I often do. I picked up a book I had started a month or so ago called 'Life...The Reader's Digest Version.' Locating where I had left off, I was shocked to see that the topic was "Count your blessings." How appropriate was that on Thanksgiving evening?  

This Thanksgiving found me thinking, and writing, about gratitude a bit more than usual. On Thanksgiving day, as I chatted with the volunteer next to me in the serving line, our discussion turned to karma and how we hoped that our volunteer work would bring us "karma points," in the words of the young man to whom I was talking.


Two days later was a hectic, not relaxing, Saturday. I had several things on my to-do list, none of them fun. I needed to pick up Christmas cards from Sam's Club, which I imagined would be a mad house just a day after the chaotic Black Friday. Surprisingly, I had no trouble finding a parking place and the store, although busy, wasn't terribly crowded. I got my cards and then something unexpected happened. 

I had been struggling with what to buy my soon-to-be-18-year-old daughter for Christmas. She had said she couldn't think of anything, so just give her some money. But I wanted to do better than that. Suddenly the light bulb went on and I knew what to get her. It's something she has wanted for a while, and something she can take with her whenever she sets out to live on her own. A store employee walking by even loaded the item into my cart for me. 


When I got home, I remembered that my new camera lens had been delivered that morning. I was pleased to see that the lens, although used, was in original packaging and looked perfect. And it arrived the day before I was going to visit the wolf refuge and take more photographs, so I could 'test drive' the new lens the following day.  

So far, the day was definitely going my way. But would my good luck continue?

After several attempts to sell a 1933 Motorola console radio, I was about to give up and donate it to a thrift shop. But I listed it one last time on Craigslist. Finally, I got a response from someone who was interested in taking a look at it. The man came to the house on Saturday to see the radio. We negotiated a price (less than what I had hoped, but better than donating it to a thrift shop) and the radio was sold at last. 


I was on a roll, but I still had one more thing to tackle, and I dreaded it.

I felt certain there was a water leak someplace in my house. For the past couple of weeks I had heard what sounded like the water pump or pressure tank come on every 10 minutes, run for a few seconds, then shut off. So I contacted a leak detection company that offered to send somebody to the house that afternoon to check things out for a $300 standard fee (no extra charge for weekend service). 

I explained the situation to the technician, who checked the humidifier on the furnace, the pressure tank in the garage (part of the system that pumps water from my well) and the sprinkler system. Finally, he went into the kitchen to listen for the sound I had described to him. "There! That's the sound," I exclaimed when I heard the tell-tale click. "That's the ice maker pulling water in to make ice," he explained. "But the ice maker has never been hooked up to the water line." Apparently that didn't matter; it was still clicking on every 10 minutes in a fruitless attempt to bring in water so it could make ice. The technician located a switch and turned the pump off. I have had this refrigerator for two years and it never made that sound in the past. Feeling rather sheepish, I asked what I owed the technician for his time. "Nothing," he said. "We'll call this a freebie." He had been at the house for 45 minutes, and he didn't charge me a thing.

I am not accustomed to having so many things go my way in a single day. After all the day's events turned out so well, I started to wonder whether there are indeed 'karma points' and whether my run of good luck was in fact related to my recent volunteer work at the food pantry, the wolf sanctuary and the Thanksgiving dinner. Whatever the reason -- coincidence or karma points -- it certainly was nice to have several things fall into place on a single day. So thank you, Karma. I'll be doing more volunteer work soon, trying to rack up additional karma points for the future.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Karma Points

I did something this Thanksgiving I have never done before. For 90 minutes, I served rolls and cranberry sauce at a free Thanksgiving meal, an annual event provided by St. Felix Pantry, where I volunteer every week.

This was my small attempt to give thanks in a tangible way for the many blessings in my life. This has not been a good year for my daughter and me, but we still have so much for which we are thankful. We both are healthy, we live in a nice home, we have food on the table and clothes in the closet, and we have medical insurance. We live in a beautiful state, in a free country.

I wasn't sure what to expect before I arrived at the McDonald's where the meal was served (McDonald's was closed for the day), but before I knew it, I was serving cranberry sauce and rolls to a long line of people. The time passed quickly, and I was rather disappointed when my replacement arrived at the end of my shift. Next year I may sign up to work both shifts.

There was no 'typical' person waiting for a nice Thanksgiving meal. There were senior citizens (one woman told me she is 87 years old), families with small children, couples and single people. They were Hispanic, Caucasian, African-American and Native American. Some were there because they need help with feeding their families; some were there for companionship as well as food. One woman confessed that she had never needed food assistance before. A man went through the line to get a take-out meal for his 92-year-old neighbor who is housebound. When I suggested he get a meal for himself as well, he replied that we should "save it for someone who needs it."

Another man went through the line twice to get a plate of food, and then he went through a third time to get two take-out meals. As he left, he said "God bless you" to people on the serving line, thanked us and patted us on the shoulder. Whether the extra meals were for someone else or for him to eat later didn't matter. We didn't ask why people wanted extra meals or three rolls or extra gravy, or why one woman asked for, and received, nine take-out meals. It didn't matter; we were there to serve food to all who wanted it.

Not only were the guests of a variety of ages and ethnicities, so were the volunteers. I worked next to a young man from Arizona, who was in town visiting his girlfriend's family. He and his girlfriend both worked in the serving line. A friendly Hispanic man kept me supplied with rolls and cranberries, showing up at just the time I was about to run out. An older black woman helped diners bag their take-out meals and handed out desserts. It was so wonderful to see people of all ages and races working together toward a common goal.

The atmosphere in the restaurant was warm and upbeat, with the spirit of the day evident in abundance. Volunteers opened the door and greeted guests as they entered the restaurant. Other volunteers took plates of food to guests with disabilities. Guests were grateful for the food, and volunteers were happy to help those in need. People were treated with respect. I heard no grumbling, no complaining, not a single negative word from anybody. People waited patiently in line for their food. Total strangers chatted warmly.

It's hard to put into words the warm feeling I got from giving a couple of hours to serve people in need. When people thanked me for volunteering, I didn't know how to respond. I said it was my pleasure, and I meant it. I was honored to be able to help in a small way.

I share my experiences not to crow about what I did, which wasn't a lot, but in the hope that others will be inspired to volunteer to help those in need. Especially now, the need is so great, and it is so easy to make a difference to someone going through a rough time.

As a Facebook friend reported after she and her husband served Thanksgiving meals at an area soup kitchen, "This is seriously such a great feeling, we want to do it a few times a month." Another Facebook friend, who volunteers at a soup kitchen in her town, noted the gratitude of the people she helps feed. And who could disagree with the young man who worked next to me, as we talked about why we were volunteering, "Karma is the best kind of points to get."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Thanksgiving, a holiday that increasingly seems to be overshadowed by Christmas, is just around the corner. I love having a holiday dedicated to being grateful for the blessings we have. But I hate that this holiday is fading into the background. It's a national holiday, and it deserves to be more than just a bump in the road on the way to Black Friday and Christmas.

Unfortunately, retailers seem to be taking Thanksgiving out a step at a time. One of my favorite local radio stations started playing nothing but Christmas music on Nov. 1, far too early to be enjoyable. The mall has had its holiday displays up for weeks already, and grocery stores set up special exhibits of ingredients for traditional holiday foods weeks ago. Two satellite radio stations started playing nothing but Christmas music the middle of November.

Thanksgiving deserves its own day, and I want to enjoy this day on its own merits before being bombarded by commercials touting "the perfect gift." Several large chain stores are planning to get an early start on the Black Friday madness by opening at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. So now Thanksgiving is little more than the kick-off to the Christmas shopping frenzy, when people push and shove, stand in long lines in the cold and darkness, to buy things they don't need with money they don't have.

Thanksgiving needs to be celebrated as intended by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 when he proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving. Americans are in the midst of another difficult year, with very high unemployment, the housing market in a nosedive and the economy struggling. Still, most of us should be able to find something for which we are thankful. And one of those things shouldn't be that we can get a head start on our shopping.

I am thankful that I can take care of myself and my daughter. We are blessed with good health, medical insurance, a nice house and cars, all the clothes we need, plenty of food and luxuries such as cell phones, a big-screen TV and digital cameras.

The least we can do is to help those not as fortunate, by donating food and money, and by giving of our time and talents. So I'm going to do something different this Thanksgiving. I don't plan to prepare a big meal. Instead, I have signed up to work as a server at a Thanksgiving meal prepared by the food pantry where I volunteer each week.

A local McDonald's restaurant, which will be closed on Thanksgiving, donates its restaurant space every year to host a free dinner for anyone who wants to join in -- the homeless, those who cannot afford to prepare a big meal themselves, and those who live alone. So this year, Thanksgiving dinner will be at McDonald's, enjoying food prepared by volunteers at St. Felix Pantry.

I challenge my readers to turn off the television, leave the shopping for a couple of days, and really take time to think about your blessings this year. If you have food on the table, a roof over your head and are able to make ends meet, even if it's a struggle, you have something for which to be thankful. Then, find a cause that moves you: homelessness, hunger, child abuse, animal abuse, the environment, literacy. Get involved, whether it's once a day or once a month. You can make a difference in the life of another, be it human or 4-legged animal. 

The spirit of Thanksgiving should not be limited to just one day or just one time of year. Rather, that spirit should pervade and guide our lives, our thoughts and our actions every day. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And thank you for taking time to read my blog today and throughout the year.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Seeing Nature Anew

It wasn't the kind of day I typically like to be outside. It was a cool 47 degrees, windy and cloudy, the kind of day that often puts a damper on my spirits. But this day, something was different. Toward the end of a solitary, 2-mile walk along a flood control canal, I sat on a bench in a reflective mood. Suddenly, I started to enjoy this early-winter day.

I sat and looked at the gray, hulking, 10-million-year-old Sandia Mountains to the east, with their pockets of new snow in a few areas on the slopes. I listened, and I didn't hear quail making their strange sounds, or the gratingly irritating calls of roadrunners. I heard nothing but a dog barking in the distance and the wind rattling the dead leaves of a nearby tree. I felt the dryness and coolness of the desert air. I smelled the dry leaves of aspen and chamisa and other desert plants. I felt the wind on my face, and I felt at peace, snug and warm in my fleece jacket.

It wasn't a day for photography or for soaking up the sun. It wasn't a day for riding my bike. It was a day for homemade soup, a solitary walk, and enjoying nature from a different perspective.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Winter Warmth

It's that time of year again. The weather is cold, and the Sandia Mountains near my home have received their first dusting of snow. Although I hate cold weather, there nevertheless is something enjoyable about this time of year.

It's nice to wrap up in a warm robe and slippers first thing in the morning, and then to change into a warm sweater or sweatshirt, to slip into flannel pajamas at the end of the day, and to feel warm and comfortable under the blankets at night. I enjoy a cup of hot tea first thing in the morning. And my thoughts turn to comfort food at this time of year: stews, soups, macaroni and cheese! Local grocery stores have had some great sales on soup, so my pantry shelves are groaning with the numerous cans of soup I have bought for the winter.

This also is the time of year when the multiple appeals for funds arrive in my mail box. I drew the line recently when the day's mail brought two different appeals for money from the same organization, a big food bank. I support this organization, but am I really more likely to donate when I get two appeals on the same day?

Cold weather and the approaching holidays also signal the start of holiday food drives. This is something I have supported for many, many years. That millions of people in this country go hungry because they cannot afford food is something that is simply not acceptable. It takes so little to make a difference in the life of a hungry person. Yesterday I bought 10 cans of vegetables for $.50 each; all will be donated to a food pantry or drive. Stuffing mix was on sale for $.99/box. Soup and cereal and peanut butter were on sale, too. Grocery stores are offering great prices on so many items.

You don't have to be a big company or a member of a huge group to sponsor a food drive. A volunteer hike leader in a local hiking group of which I am a member is hosting a hike/food drive this Saturday to benefit our local food bank. He will collect the food and deliver it to Roadrunner Food Bank. Even better, he suggests that people donate pet food as well as food for humans.

Feeding the hungry is one of my causes, so I donate a lot to various food drives and I volunteer weekly at a local food pantry. I don't expect everyone to have my level of commitment to this cause. But just think of how many people we could feed if 1 million or 2 million or 10 million shoppers each bought and donated just one item to their local food bank. Many grocery stores have collection barrels at the front of their stores. So the next time you go grocery shopping, please consider picking up an extra non-perishable item or two and dropping it in the barrel as you leave the store. Your act of generosity will warm not only the person who receives it, but it may warm your heart, too.